Jack Weinberg, a student activist at UC Berkeley during the 60s, is famous for coining the phrase “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” He’d be singing a different tune today if his work involved protecting his client’s trademarks in China.
Recently, a Chinese trademark lawyer and I were bemoaning the nonsense coming out of the China Trademark Office (CTMO) over the past several months. Delays because the computer system is down. Delays because the CTMO ran out of the right kind of paper. Delays because the CTMO hired hundreds of inexperienced employees. Rejections that don’t make any sense.
It’s funny (ironic, not ha ha) how China’s newish Trademark Law, which came into effect on May 1, 2014, included a number of “hard” deadlines for trademark-related work. For example, the CTMO is now required to examine all trademark applications within 9 months, and decide all non-use cancellations within 9 months. Has this happened? Of course not. If anything, the delays are worse than before, and the statutory deadlines seem to be encouraging trademark examiners to make a decision – any decision – just to avoid being late.
Lately, the decisions don’t seem to be so much random as maniacally conservative. Examiners seem so afraid of approving a trademark incorrectly that they are erring on the side of rejecting applications, even if for the most specious grounds. The CTMO is rumored to have moved all of its experienced trademark examiners to handle appeals, leaving only recent hires to handle the trademark applications. Rather than risk making the wrong “yes” decision, these examiners are far too often just saying “no.”
It’s hard to say whether this is poor management by the CTMO (my guess) or a devious form of rent-seeking. Either way, anyone seeking a China trademark is now far more likely than ever before to have to pay for an appeal to “win” their trademark. Fortunately, the examiners handling the appeals are veterans and legitimate trademarks are typically going through at this stage. But with delays becoming routine and appeals becoming all too common, the expected time to receive a trademark registration has become significantly longer. If you’ve got a trademark that you want to protect in China, get your application in now, before it gets even worse.